Thursday, January 6, 2011

Life Beyond Death

In the Mahabharata, the most ancient epic of the world, we read a prize question that was asked to difference great men of ancient times. “What is the most wonderful thing in the world?” Various people came up with answers but only Yudhishthira’s answer was finally accepted. His answer was this: “Everyday and day after day, animals and human beings are passing out of life, but we do not think of death. What can be more wonderful than this?” The answer still holds true after thirty five centuries have passed since it was given. We do not think of death, although we see every day the dead bodies carried to the grave.

I have always been fascinated by the arcane and the unknown. Hence this winter when I had nothing significant to do, I tried to find a logical explanation to what lay beyond the grave through Swami Abhedananda’s book Life beyond Death: A critical study of Spiritualism. For the uninitiated, Swami Abhedananda was a colleague of Swami Vivekananda and the founder of the Vedanta Society and former president of the American Psychical Research Society.

The book begins its treatment after promptly presenting before us the following difficult question translated from the Katha Upanishad:

“There is this doubt; when a man dies some say that he is gone forever, that he does not exist, while others hold that he still lives; which of those is true?”

I could not stop. I had to read on. The author first analyses the belief of the materialists who firmly deny the existence of the soul after the death of the body. They believe that the body is the soul and the soul does not exist outside of the body, and when the body dies, the soul is also dead and gone. The author raises the question that if we assume that the soul or the mass of intelligence is caused by the body then what is the cause of that body? The materialists would probably answer this question by saying that the body was caused due to the body of its parents. However, this answer is rejected by the author as instead of explaining the cause of the matter, we are shown another combination of matter which is like explaining the cause by the effect as the body of the parents is the effect of their parents.

Furthermore, the author analyses the argument of the materialists that thought, intelligence, consciousness is nothing but a function of brain. He counters and I quote: “after dissecting a human brain when one does not find there any trace of the soul or mind, and denies its existence, or asserts that mind or soul is the function of the brain, he forgets that such knowledge necessarily implies the existence of his mind or soul. Hence, it will be absurd to deny the priority of that which is basis of consciousness and intelligence.” He also adds that if it be a scientific truth that motion produces motion, how can we maintain that the molecular motion of the brain-cells produces consciousness or intelligence, which is not the same as motion, but is a knower of motion? Hence the author concludes that the source of consciousness cannot be found in matter, but stands independent of it as the soul of the body.

Matter thus is the confiner of consciousness and not its generator. In the words of the author: “Matter is not that which produces consciousness, but that which limits it and confines its intensity within certain limits; material organisation does not construct consciousness out of arrangement of atoms, but contracts its manifestation within the sphere which it permits.”

I am yet to find counter of his argument. The above description is summarised from the first chapter of the book titled: Does the soul exist after death? The author goes on to say that each soul is eternal and after death it retains its individuality and takes with it all the experiences, impressions and ideas which it gained on earth. The arguments for these are covered in successive chapters of the book which deal with rebirth of the soul, reincarnation and immortality.

The beauty of the book lies in the fact that its pages do not narrate ghost or supernatural stories to prove its views which is usually expected from such books. Instead, the book agrees that 99% of such recounted incidents are fake and for the purpose of making money. The author logically tries to justify his views with brilliance.

For those interested, the book is published by Ramkrishna Vedanta Math, Kolkata and is priced at Rs. 80.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A beautiful story ends

I like the way the show started. It all seems like yesterday when I landed in Penang and met Bhavik and Henry for the first time. Today after two months, we have shared more than just the lab and hopefully will remain the best of friends forever. This was the first time that I ventured outside India. I have known many people who went overseas during their academic life and have often asked them curiously: “How was it like?” Their usual replies range from the description of the sophisticated work that they had carried out to the display of some hundreds of pictures that they had captured. Well, for me, I do not what to say. I too can display the eighteen hundred odd pictures or describe to you interesting facts on medical imaging that I myself do not fully understand. Or maybe, I can just put in three words: “It felt different.”

When I took the flight from New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur, the announcement system in the plane harped about the Malaysian Hospitality. I did not understand it then as we Indians usually claim to be pretty hospitable but now after two months I can just put it as: “I came here as a visitor and am going back as a guest.”

The memories just blaze past: the regular 8 hours of fun in the lab and lunch-breaks with Tiyasa, Racheal, Nelson, Pekan, Darwaesh and Kkl, the constant mentoring received from Bhavik, the around Penang trip with him, the totally self planned visit to KL with Tiyasa, working and discussing seemingly impossible stuff with Henry, Lim and Anusha, the knowledge and support I gained from Adel, Ong, Saravanesh and Mogana and finally the beautiful farewells from the lab mates and Latifah, the assistant registrar (international affairs.)

But then, these were just the pictures described in words.

When I arrived here, I knew no one but I never felt short of friends.

There is so much more to tell past the pictures, past the faces, past the sceneries. I wish to write it all down but then, I believe all of it is best summarised in the following two quotes:

“I’ve seen so much in so many places, so many heartaches, so many faces.” -from the song Extreme ways from the movie The Bourne Ultimatum.

“Much that once was doesn’t remain the same; not even me.” –from Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

Goodbye Malaysia. As for the people I came to know here: Miss you all, love you all and more importantly, respect you all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Explorers from a faraway land

Most people believe that Time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the faces of time and I can tell you, they are wrong. Time is like an ocean in a storm. (Prince of Persia –the game)

I so well believe the above lines. In two weeks time, I have lived ages and have experienced the seemingly unreal. To make things interesting for the readers of WW, I describe glimpses of some of the most interesting things I learned here. It encompasses the thoughts of the people I met, the sights I saw and, well just read on.

  • The city of Georgetown, the capital of Penang has a free public transport and most of the localites I met do not know about it.
  • The concept of arranged marriages is almost nonexistent among students. They just need to fall in love.
  • No one could tell me how many letters the Chinese alphabet has. The fact that some Chinese characters can be split into multiple ones is amazing.
  • I do not know about all, but some scorpions can glow in the dark.
  • The fact that many undergraduate students possess personal cars, still seems so unreal to me.
  • Zimbabwe has a currency note for 50 billion dollars.
  • A semi-Indian restaurant plays Hindi songs that are at least fifteen years old.

I guess, I am about to fall in love with Malaysian Hospitality.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Lion and the Demon: Confrontation

Disclaimer: The characters and incidents depicted in the following post are fictitious. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.

The trail that leads to this post: 'A Hero is born' ; 'For those who came in late'; 'The Lion and the Demon: Part 1'

Everything that had a beginning has an end. The map that had come in the possession of Dynamite had indicated some kind of underground location at this point of the DGMS campus. I need to look beneath the earth. His careful analysis of the map had allowed him to point out the subtle differences between the architecture of the DGMS and that of the School and all his intuition had lead him to this point. He removed the whip-blade from its case and began inspecting the ground for possible trap-doors. I need to see beyond vision. The blades slid along the imperceptible groove along the trapdoor and soon Dynamite heard a faint click. Ah! Success. The lid gave a roundabout flip to reveal the security access lock. Non lethal infiltration techniques are my specialty. Dynamite returned back to the courtyard entry where he had parked his bike. He unpacked his assortment of military equipments and held out one of the EMP grenades. An EMP attack would leave buildings standing and spare lives, but it could neutralize a sizable electronic security system through its short-duration burst of electromagnetic energy. He secured the grenade to the access lock and within moments a bright blue flash had done its trick. The blue torch of enlightenment.

Dynamite stepped through the trapdoor. I need to get to the bottom of this. This was the right place. He could feel it down to his bones. Fate, luck, karma whatever he wished to name it had lead him to this point and he wasn’t going to rest until he had solved the case. He descended down the stairs. As he faced the meeting room, he gave out a slight cry of exclamation for he had witnessed someone he had not expected at all. A man in the blue blazer. He faced Dynamite with a friendly smile. “Welcome to my inner sanctum. How may I help you? What a strange apparel you have!” Dynamite was perplexed. He wanted step outside. He couldn’t believe that this could be happening but wasn’t he facing the DG himself. He gasped: “Sir, I believe you are the DG. I have been exploring a case and I have been lead to this point. I think you can help me out.” The DG smiled: “I would prefer to be addressed as the General. Sit down. I will get back at you in a moment. As you can see this is a private space and the way you destroyed my privacy wasn’t really appreciable.” Dynamite was speechless. It just didn’t make sense. I liked the way the show started but this is not how it was supposed to end. He heard muffled voices through the door facing his right. “What’s behind the door?” The General exclaimed: “Oh! It is just my private study.” Dynamite got up from his chair and faced the metal door. Before the general could make a move, he heaved himself onto it. Inside, the vision was grotesque. Twelve elderly men in tatters. One of them shouted: “The General is evil. You need to stop him!”

The General pounced from behind. Then all hell broke loose. “You have seen enough! What are you? Some nosy superhero? Show me what you have got. Heat Vision? X-ray vision? Some magic ring of doom? Hah!” He had his firm clasp locked around Dynamite’s throat from behind and with the other hand he was twisting his arm. “I am no superhero and I have got this!” Dynamite loosened his body and let go to give a perfect back body drop on to the wooden table. The General quivered in pain. He lashed out the whip-blade and put it around the General’s throat. “Speak or I will rip it off.” The General gave out a mad grin and kicked at the dark crusader. “You have got me already? Have you?” The General got away and picked up a chair and targeted it to the hand of Dynamite holding the whip-blade. An accurate blind shot. The chair cracked and Dynamite yelled out with pain and the whip blade fell from his grasp. The General wasted no time in lunging himself and grabbing the blade. The room was too narrow and it was making Dynamite’s moves difficult. I must surprise my opponent. With a quick swing, the General lashed out the blade at Dynamite that gave him a gash in his cheek and ripped apart the red cape that had hid his face. The boyish face of Shaant stared wildly at the General. He laughed: “I am about to murder a child! You are just a boy and you came here thinking you are going to defeat me. You don’t know what you are dealing with here.”

There was no time for jokes now. Only my sorcery can win over this madman. He stared at the eyes of the General. I cannot dare to blink. He murmured the Ol Chiki spell of procrastination, the most deadly among all the spells that he had mastered, which could stop the activity of the muscles at the very least. The effect would be instantaneous and the General will be grovelling alongside the chairs within no time. It didn’t happen. The General stood there with a broad grin spread out on his face. He tried it again. I mustn’t be concentrating hard enough. Nothing happened. It was as if something had drained the art out of him. Why isn’t it working? The General exclaimed: “You are trying these indigenous incantations on me! You forget that I have lived here for more than twenty five years. I know this place far better than you can ever imagine. You might have memorized a few incantations but I have learned the art from the masters themselves. I explored the art to the level that I can defend myself from it. You on the other hand relied on memory like a typical student. “

Dynamite found himself frozen on the spot. This couldn’t be happening. He tried the spell again, twice, thrice and every time without effect. Should I escape? The General gloated at his misery. He continued: “These incantations feed on imbecility. They maximise weaknesses of mind. I don’t drink anymore, so the Alcoholic charm won’t work on me. I don’t keep my work undone so I am immune to the spell of procrastination. I have taken care to eradicate each and every mental weakness of mine and so I cannot be defeated! You memorized two or three spells and you thought you had the whole world under you. In fact, there are infinite spells possible and an Ol Chiki translation can maximise any of your weaknesses!”

Dynamite’s head was swimming. How can I fight this monster? And then the blow struck. Dynamite found his feet uprooted from the ground and his body crashed to the wall behind him. Then the pain started. He felt as if his lungs would burst for want of oxygen. What was happening? He was suffocating to death. It was as if his blood flow was failing to reach his body parts. His heart pounded in his chest. The General towered over him. The whip-blade glinted in his hands and his evil laughter reaching the ears of Dynamite seemed otherworldly. “I shall crown myself with the blood of fallen heroes!” The confounded group of spectators were slowly vanishing from his eyes. I am about to die. Then, the words of the General reached his ears: “You yourself are not immune to mental weaknesses. Your have been a smoker all your life. You smoked to erase frustration. Your lip’s curl gave away. This is the smoker’s spell! You are simply suffering from the long term effects of smoking magnified by a tenfold! You will die and not even you can save yourself now for it is not I but your weakness that is killing you!”

Dynamite wasn’t listening. He was too much overwhelmed with his pain. I can fight this. Infinite spells. Infinite possibilities. I need to stay alive to stop this madman. Can it be that the General is immune to every weakness? Dynamite thought hard. The pain was slowly fading the colour from his face. Innovation is the only solution. And then he had got it. Solutions are always simple. He chanted the spell without a second thought. It had to work. The General fell. His concentration broke and the spell casted over Dynamite lifted. A surge of fresh oxygen entered Dynamite’s arteries and the blood flow was restored. He struggled to get up. One of the elderly onlookers picked him up. He managed to throw a quick glance at the General. He was shivering as if his body was under some kind of fit. The General was covered from head to foot with sweat. He gasped and panted and his face was twitched with horror. He has seen a ghost. Dynamite called for the twelve spectators: “Quickly, reach to the toolbox in my bike and find the strongest nylon rope. We need to tie him up. I cannot hold the spell for long.”

Soon they managed to tie the General to a nearby pillar. He had his chance. He won’t get another. One of the aged gentlemen asked: “What did you do to him? He was immune to everything.” Dynamite managed a faint smile through the pain his body had suffered. “The General had mastered immunity to all kinds of imbecility except for one and I maximised it and the result is before you.” The gentleman shrugged and asked: “What was that?” Dynamite’s smile broadened: “Fear. Fear of failing. Fear that he won’t succeed in his mission. It is the greatest weakness in all humans. It is only when you lose this fear that you can truly call yourself enlightened. My spell just maximised this fear in him. Now, if you can just help me out of this place and onto my bike.”

Outside, the sky showed the first shimmer of breaking dawn. The twelve elderly men had gathered around Dynamite’s bike. They had the Sanctum locked from the outside by placing a large boulder over the entry. Thereafter they narrated the entire plan of the General to Dynamite. He said: “The work isn’t over. You are men of power. Reach out to the police and have this place and the General taken into custody immediately and do not mention me. Tell them that the twelve of you overpowered him. The other twelve sanctums need to be found.” The men nodded. One of them inquired: “Won’t you help us with it. You are the superhero who saved the day.”

Dynamite started his bike. “I am no superhero. I realise it now. Sir, in fact I am a junior to all of you. I am just another ISMite trying to bring about good.” The men weren’t satisfied: “But when evil looms large again, won’t you be back to stop it.” Dynamite grinned: “Lions will always rise when demons dream of taking over the world.” He slowly drove his bike away from the group of men and out of the courtyard. Light had finally emerged from the darkness.

The End.

My sincerest thanks to the regular readers of Wit Within who appreciated the work which was a small experiment on my part to write a short story. My heartfelt thanks to two special ISM alumni (presently staying in Australia and the United States respectively) for reading and appreciating the posts.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Lion and the Demon: Part 1

Disclaimer: The characters and incidents depicted in the following post are fictitious. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended. The locations described in the post are factual.

The trail that leads to this post: 'A Hero is born' ; 'For those who came in late'

The day of the chase. Six hours ago.

The illustrious singer stopped singing. His voice had already left the audience enchanted. The orchestra stopped playing with a final flourishing note. The singer took a bow and left the stage. Outside, Dhanbad slowly immersed itself into a calm and black night. The distinguished host made his way up to the podium to conclude the memorable evening. He was dressed in the blue blazer that he had preserved all these years. The blazer was his identity. It bore the insignia of that institution which defined what he was today. My alma mater embroidered in gold. “I thank one and all for joining me in this celebration. I will retire soon but these twenty five years at office culminating with this lovely evening will never be forgotten.” The host, now in his early sixties, still maintained a robust physique and a warm smile. He quickly made his way down the stage amongst the elite guests who had gratified him by being a part of the occasion. The guests included directors, CEOs and technical and managerial heads of most of the public sector oil, energy and power organisations that operated in the country. The controllers of the blood veins of the nation. The ceremony had concluded and they started to leave. Only the chosen ones shall remain. He moved in and out of the gathering, seeing his guests off and within the next hour, the courtyard was almost empty and his mind was at peace.

The night had settled in and the new moon shone clearly in the Dhanbad sky. The flood lights in the courtyard created ghostly shadows of the few people that remained. They all moved in a group towards the General, for that was the name he preferred to be used among his corporate compatriots. One of them, a short and balding man in a dinner jacket spoke: “we received your message and have been waiting to speak to you. What is it that you wanted from us?” The General replied after a moment of silence: “Follow me for I desire privacy in what I wish to impart.”

The General lead the group away from the courtyard and into the central arched corridor. The red stone walls of the central complex were very similar to the architecture of the School. The elite group formed a huddle and followed the General. They were visibly uncomfortable at this pretence of secrecy. However their respect for the man who was senior to most of them made them follow his request. The General lead them to the southeast corner of the central complex to a small open space. He bent down to the cemented piece of land and seemed to slide his fingers across a rectangular patch. There was a click and the entire rectangular patch gave a upside down spin to reveal an electronic access lock. Access to the crypt. The General punched in the access code and quite predictably, the cemented patch slid across revealing descending metallic stairs. Down the rabbit hole. One of the followers sniggered: “I never knew the General had a taste for theatrics.” The General laughed: “Presentation is something you can never underestimate.” They climbed down the stairway into the basement. It was more of a cellar partitioned into two large rooms. The cemented walls and open electric connections showed signs of recent renovation. The two rooms were connected by an electronically locked doorway. The General exclaimed: “Welcome to my little private space. I call it my Inner Sanctum. As you must have deduced by now, it has been constructed recently. Would everybody be kind enough to join me in my study and begin the conclave?” The General lead them to the room that faced them. The simple study had a large central table with thirteen chairs surrounding it. The Last Supper. The invited guests, twelve in number took their respective seats and waited with utmost curiosity for the General to speak.

The General remained standing.”Questions must be preserved till the end. My brethren, my fellow batch-mates and juniors, this is the utmost honour that I can address you with. The twelve of you are my peers who now control the driving forces of this nation through various public sector organizations. What is even more honourable is the fact that we share the same alma mater. We have toiled for years to make the nation self dependent but to what effect? I ask you, are we the real decision makers of the country. If we are the driving forces then are we the ones who guide the nation? You may accuse me of being over ambitious but know this: the past twenty five years that I have spent in my office, in reality, all my decisions and attempts have been scrutinized and criticized by false leaders of the nation and private western parties and so have yours. When we studied at the School, we had this insatiable zeal of changing the system. I ask you, now we have the power, why don’t we set ourselves to the task now. I propose the onset of a regime in which the public sector workers have the ultimate control and we shall be the forerunners of the movement with the help of our Chinese allies and finally when we take over the government, the power shall rest in the hands of the people who have been serving the nation selflessly since decades. ”

The General stopped. His palms were covered with sweat and they shivered with nervous excitement. He continued further: “This Inner Sanctum that you see is one of the thirteen such locations spread all over the country from where the movement shall be controlled. The other twelve lie at secret locations close to each of the headquarters that you control. Currently the locations are being used to store weapons supplied by our international allies. As you can see, it is a thirteen node failsafe strategy. If one sanctum is discovered, the remaining twelve expand their powers to fill its place. If you see what I see and dream what I dream, then I implore you to enter into a pact with me and you shall be given the control of your own Sanctum to lead the charge.”

The audience stared at horror at this devilish scheme while the General uttered these final words: “We have been dealing directly with the grassroots since decades. Join the charge and I shall give you the control of the greatest Militia ever formed. If the radiance of these thirteen suns were to burst at once into the Indian sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one.”

The world spun around the guests as if in slow motion. One of the guests, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He confirmed: “So, this next room is the weapons storage for this location?” The General smiled and nodded in agreement. A third member, who hadn’t spoken so far stated: “Your master scheme is flawed. Even if we follow you, what is the guarantee that our successors won’t drive the country into total chaos? The present democratic system is designed to prevent this. We cannot risk a civil war. I am sorry but I do not see the sense in this madness. ISMites have been men of power but the only reason that we have been successful is the fact that we have worked in the shadows, in the background. What you propose may tend to a totalitarian regime. We may initiate a socialist propaganda but our successors might always want to assume total control. “

The other members of the conclave nodded vigorously in agreement. However, none of them dared to look at the General in his face. The Genera started to speak: “My dear fellows, you fail to understand my motives- oh wait, what is that noise? Something is going on at the surface. One of my convoys is about to arrive. Maybe when you behold the arsenal you shall appreciate the work that I have done. Come with me.” The General lead the huddled group of ashen faced men to the next room. They followed him meekly and with visible apathy on their faces. The next room was the weapon storage facility. It was slightly larger than the meeting room and was equipped with a modern surface surveillance system. The remaining room was storage to the weapon convoys, waiting to be shipped to Sanctums across the nation. However, none of these interested the present group of onlookers as their gaze was transfixed onto the screen of the surveillance system.

The screen showed a moving object. A grotesque vision. One of the onlookers whispered “It is a man but he is clothed from head to foot. What is it?” The man had just got down from his bike and was slowly walking around the courtyard looking for something. The General’s cold voice shattered the silence across the room: “He looks suspicious. He must have followed the convoy. Gentlemen, you will not leave this place until we have come to a decision. You owe me blood for all that I have shared tonight and blood if not consent is what you will repay me with.”

The guests were visibly shaken at this night’s misadventures did not seem to come to an end. The murmured among themselves while the man on the screen clearly showed signs that he knew where to go for he was slowly walking towards the southeast corner of the campus. He will never get past through my security access. The man now stood over the entry to the Sanctum. His composure was somehow eating into the mind of the General. Who is this man?

To be continued.

On the next installment: The finale.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

For those who came in late

Disclaimer: The characters and incidents depicted in the following post as well as the one titled ‘A Hero is born’ are fictitious. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended. The information on the Santal community in this post is factual.

To make any sense of this post, you need to first go back to the post titled ‘A Hero is born.’

Eleven years before the wild goose chase on the streets of Dhanbad.

It was a bleak and sunless day over the Diamond Hostel. Mid december is not the most cheerful time at Dhanbad. The reddish walls of the building that had witnessed the suns of pre-independence India were cold and dry. The Red Fort of the School. The lone figure on the courtyard stood motionless, his tired eyes fighting to remain open. His unshaven face and matted hair and his lips twitched into the familiar smoker’s curl did not need an eagle-eye to deduce his lifestyle. His body ached after facing the ordeals of the previous night and it made standing a painful experience. I am the birthday boy. To avoid using his real name, let he be known as Shaant for calm. Presently, his eyes were fixed on the object before him. From the sleek handlebars to the state of the art fenders and heat deflectors and down to the red framework, the bike before him was every young man’s dream. Shaant picked up the card neatly folded on the bike’s seat: ‘To our dear son on his 21st birthday.’ The card had come in an envelope that bore the stamp of South Africa and the logo of a global oil and energy giant. He kept the card carefully in his jacket pocket and stared back at his present. Happiness served to me on a plate. Quietly, Shaant turned on the ignition and rode the Harley out of the hostel. He brought it to a stop at the dilapidated Former Army Camp near the hostel. The Army Camp had probably been built by the British and was long abandoned and was not frequented by the students of the School. ‘The bike must be hid here. I hate cynosures.’ He pushed against an old wooden door that creaked and gave way and took the bike to the room inside. ‘Stay here my birthday present. Maybe, when I leave this place, I shall find use of you. Till then it is goodbye.’ He secured the door by a weight which could act as a lock and returned.

Hey, Shaant, we have another mining excursion tomorrow to Jharia. The booze is as usual on you!” This was a branch-mate termed as a close friend. “Yeah, sure man. But it is you who must hide it at the back of the bus,” replied Shaant. “Ha! Ha! Mining rocks. Look at those CSE guys. They think that being the second batch here through JEE, studying like dogs would make MNCs recruit them! This is ISM man. School of Mines! When would they realise?” This was a rhetorical question from a third companion. They may be birds of a feather but not I. “Why do you care about MNCs? My dad heads one and I can tell you what it is like. They just don’t care about development of an area. For them it is just the profit. ISM is for Indians. There is so much to change here. Even Dhanbad can be developed if we put our mind to it,” retorted Shaant.

Next day at the Jharia mining site, Shaant decided to take a walk while the instructor was busy explaining the intricacies of an equipment. Nothing intrigues me now. The wave of procrastination had taken its toll on Shaant and now he didn’t know what he wanted. He was dying to make the change but he couldn’t tell how or what. He wasn’t even sure about why he had come to the School in the first place. He wandered around the slums of Jharia desultorily. I am the last man alive on earth.

The aborigines of this part of the country are known as Santals. The belonged to the largest tribal community in India and are said to be the descendants of the humans who first came to India about fifty thousand years ago. The present state of Jharkhand is supposed to be an exclusive state for the Santal community. Shaant was always intrigued by the mysterious and rich culture of the Santals and would often spend hours looking for conclusive evidences in the articles published in local newspapers about how the Santals still believed in witchcraft and black magic.

Please! Do you have some water? I am thirsty.” Shaant knocked on to a nearby hut. An old lady of about sixty came out with a pot of water. Shaant gulped it down faster than a pelican. “What is that building?” He asked pointing to a desolate and wrecked structure that once would have been a grand manor. “Oh! That is the old library. No one goes in there. Soon the municipality would have it razed. It is completely wrecked from within.” Shaant coaxed her to take him in to which she reluctantly agreed after a while. She replied: “Ok, for you may be the last one who sees it.”

Inside the building was a mess. The shelves and the books were badly infected with lice and all kinds of pests. The plaster had crumbled off long back and the stench of long accumulated water dripping from the ceilings filled the place. Shaant gave a quick glance across the central hall of the building. There were more than two hundred volumes with several in hardback and calligraphic cohevers. He brought down a couple of them from the lower shelves onto the floor. The script in which all these books were written was no way similar to anything he had seen before. The strange alphabets did not fall into the well known Devanagri or Dravidian categories. Baffled, he looked at the lady for assistance. “Ol Chiki,” she replied, “the ancient script of the Santals. Here give it to me. I shall help translate.”

The first volume in a thin red cover turned out to be a practical implementation of the Atharva-veda, the most ancient text on medicine. It was written by some medieval Santal priest. The other volume cased in black hardbound cover with ornate golden letters on the top bore the title “Looking beyond the moon.” It was a scientific text on the stars and planets and their effects known to the tribes. Shaant was thrilled. “These texts are priceless. Diamonds in the rough.” Seeing his curiosity, the lady laughed: “I have tried some of the techniques that were taught to us by our parents. Most do not work or one can’t figure out what they mean.” Shaant was not hearing. He opened another book. The heading translated into: “On the greatest gift to man from God.” Clearly it referred to the Brain. Agog, he flipped around the pages, momentarily stopping to ask for translations. The book talked about the seemingly infinite power of the human brain and how to harness it for good as well as evil. It introduced the definition Psycho-sorcery which the book claimed could control the weakness of another human’s brain and magnify it to enormous proportions. The Spell of Procrastination particularly caught his eye. Casting it by a straight eye contact would cause an opponent’s brain to procrastinate involuntarily activities that it is subjected to perform –from muscle contraction to even heartbeat. The effect would largely be dependent on the prowess of the sorcerer.

Shaant had seen enough to understand the power he held in his hands. ‘It may be cock and bull but why can’t I give it a try,’ he thought. He bagged the couple of texts under his arm and thanked the lady for her help. On his way out his gaze transfixed on a strange device next to the door, that he had missed earlier. What is that?” He asked curiously. It resembled a huge chain with serrations all over it and a solid metal handle at one end. “It is the weapon of the warriors during the times of our forefathers.” Shaant instantly asked: “Can I take it as a memento that I visited this place.” You are insane!” was the reply. “You bet I am!”

Shaant returned to Dhanbad. This wasn’t the first time he has bunked an excursion or training. However, his steps were firmer this time. He had formed a project. Learning Ol Chiki topped his list of priorities now. Back at the School, he sprinted to the Former Army Camp. I need to bury my treasure. Pushing aside the door, he took a long gaze at the Harley. Red is definitely not my colour.

To be continued.

On the next instalment: ‘Back to the streets.'

My heartfelt thanks to all those who read, loved and appreciated my modest creation. Your comments and criticism are most welcome.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Hero is born

The black Nissan X-Trail raced across the silent streets of Dhanbad. It was past midnight and as usual, there was not a single living soul in sight, except of course the occupants of the SUV. Four men on a secret campaign. The night was darker than usual today. New moon. The SUV crossed Big Bazaar with a loud screech that echoed into the night.

High atop the Big Bazaar complex, a silhouette gazed at the dark vehicle. It definitely had aroused his suspicion. This complex was his outpost, the one of the few hotspots of Dhanbad. It was his personalized watch-tower onto the Dhanbad crime world. For two years now, he had been tracing the source of arms smuggling into Dhanbad that made its way into Jharkhand to the hands of the Maoists. He had always had this suspicion that seemingly peaceful district of Dhanbad was a safe passage for the allies of the Maoist party in Bengal and that the seemingly dormant Coal Mafia of Dhanbad had a role to play in it. Now finally, today his informant, had come up with news that he hoped better be good. It was time.

He put on his black ballistic armour and the red cape that hid partly hid his face and thus his identity from the world. Black and red where his favourite for they together symbolized the spirit of Jharkhand-coal. The golden single stick of dynamite on emblazoned on his chest represented the name he had given himself: Dynamite. How Dynamite came into existence is a story of another time but let this be known that he was once a frustrated student of the School of Mines and he had dropped out midway to make Dhanbad a safer place for its citizens.

Dynamite had made up his mind to chase the vehicle for he suspected that this could be a lead onto the case he was looking into. He made his way across the rooftops and jumped onto the nearby eucalyptus tree and made his way down to the pavement where his faithful black Harley Davidson XL-1200 waited patiently for him. It was custom made with a 1200cc V-twin engine and a 6-speed gearbox, capable of reaching speeds up to 150mph. Also it had the best silencer to shun the engine noise thus making stealth chases a reality.

Dynamite rode the behemoth into the night, his every gearshift bringing him closer to the cruising X-Trail. They had already crossed the School and were on the road towards HIrapur. Dynamite overtook the SUV, past the windshield and brought the bike to a halt with a masterful ninety degree swing before the vehicle, blowing gravel and sand on the newly constructed road. The X-Trail stopped and the jittery voices from within that came through the partly opened window made it clear that he had taken them by surprise. “What is that? We will be late. Why have you stopped”, cried one from within. “The funny looking guy is stopping the car. Tell him we don’t have time for dramatics!” another impatient voice replied. The door opened and four men came out, their holsters clearly visible. It was an old age philosophy for Dynamite: let the opponent make the first move. With a height of just 5’7’’, he wasn’t the tallest of heroes and hence this was also the smartest of the things to do. “What do you want?” cried the tall and dark man, his fingers crawling towards the holster. “Step aside.” Dynamite’s voice was ice cold. Don’t mess with me. “You have no idea what you are dealing with here. We do not hesitate to shoot.” The third guy pointed his gun at Dynamite. It was a strange looking gun. I would love to examine them at leisure. There was a silent swish as Dynamite’s arms made a strange movement and the man holding the gun was on the floor. The foursome stared wildly at the weapon in the hands of the dark crusader before them. It was a long whip-blade with razor-sharp spikes all along it. It had been wrapped to his belt all this while. Dynamite hated guns and projectiles. Too noisy and too risky. This melee weapon went well with his mastery in martial arts and acrobatics. The three others leaped towards him and grabbed him by the neck. Too strong yet too weak. The surprise was yet to come.

Dynamite stared into the eye of the brawn holding him from the front and muttered something indiscernible. Mumbo-jumbo. His captor was soon on the floor with his hands on his head. Acute headache had seized him. There was no time to waste. He landed a back punch that cracked the jaw of one and staggered back onto his feet. A final swish of the whip-blade tore open the neck artery and brought the final man down.

Dynamite walked back to his bike. His Psycho-sorcery had once again saved him from tight corners. His ability to control the neuron impulses of the opponent always served him well. He had simply casted the spell which he called ‘The Alcoholic Charm’, had caused his opponent to go into an intense hangover after drinking too much of alcohol. Psycho-sorcery had its own disadvantages. For one, the more powerful the spell was, the greater would be the caster’s physical weakness on the aftermath. Also, it could be casted only on one person at a time and required eye contact.

The toolbox in the bike contained an assortment of military equipments. From lock-picks to silent EMP granades which could disrupt a security system, he had everything. For now, all he needed was a lock-pick and some rope to tie his captives to the divider. In the morning, Prabhat Khabar would report how the Dhanbad police had successfully captured armed robbers and foiled their plan to rob some bank. Anonymity was Dynamite’s identity and Stealth his greatest bet. Dynamite picked the back padlock of the vehicle and stared at surprise of what lay before him.

The back of the car contained boxes after boxes of ammunition and state of the art handguns. The goons that lay groaning had held similar handguns. He closely inspected them. Stealth handguns from China. There use by the Maoists would bring in guerrilla warfare on the streets. However, Dynamite’s glance was now transfixed onto another interesting object: a sheet of rolled paper. He brought it out and spread it out on the street. It was a blueprint that looked like the map of a building. There were two maps on the same sheet, one marked Main Building and the other: Basement. Dynamite glanced over the Main Building’s map and could predict from its architecture consisting of hallways and arches that there were only two such buildings in Dhanbad: the Main Building of the School and the DGMS (the Directorate General of Mine Safety.) The other map clearly indicated the whereabouts of some underground storage facility in one of these buildings.

This would be another of those sleepless nights. When he was a student of ISM, Dynamite had mastered the art of undertaking successive night-outs. This night had just begun.

To be continued.

Note: This was my attempt to create your own ISM’s superhero. This might well become a series if I get your encouragement and ideas. On the next instalment : ”Who is Dynamite?”